Authentic Homemade Sauerkraut

Learn how to make your own delicious and nutritious authentic homemade sauerkraut in easy to follow steps using the process of fermentation. #sauerkraut #fermenting #lacticfermentation #fermentedcabbage

Learn how to ferment your own authentic homemade sauerkraut in easy to follow steps.

Two German Childhoods

When I was a kid, I always thought that our family only ate the ‘not so awesome’ parts of German cuisine; the pork hocks, headcheese, sauerkraut, etc. Where were the famous German desserts, like Black Forest Cakes and Apple Strudel? It turns out that these cultural luxuries often get left behind in the name of necessity. My grandpa, the second youngest of FOURTEEN children recalls a time when times were pretty lean on the farm. I asked him once how his mother made sauerkraut. His response, “Well, there was a half a cart of cabbages…”

A whole green cabbage with a knife stuck in the top.

The Modern Way to Make Sauerkraut

Though the fermentation process is still the same, not many people make sauerkraut in such large quantities these days. All you need is a small crock or a quart jar with a lid. Even better, make yourself a quart jar with an airlock. An airlock prevents air from getting into the jar but allows the gases formed during fermentation to escape. You can buy an airlock at any brewing store for cheap, then drill an appropriate sized hole in a plastic quart jar lid. 

Sliced green cabbage with a small bowl of pink Himalayan salt.

Tips for Great Homemade Sauerkraut

There are 3 golden rules to follow when fermenting your own kraut: 

  1. Use the correct salt to cabbage ratio. Using more salt will only make the sauerkraut extra salty, using too little will attract unwanted bacteria.
  2. Keep it submerged under the brine. If you need to, you can do this by hand, just wash your hands and press the cabbage down until it becomes fully submerged.
  3. Temperature is king. Too cool and your kraut will ferment too slowly, allowing unwanted bacteria or mold. Too warm and you may also have a wealth of issues. A temperature range of 65-70°F (18-21°C) degrees is perfect.

A bowl of shredded green cabbage with pink Himalayan salt sprinkled on top.

Lactic Fermentation

Sauerkraut is the result of Lactic Fermentation. During this anaerobic process, sugars and starches in the cabbage are broken down by Leuconostoc bacteria. These bacteria are naturally present and harmless. Their job is to convert the sugars in the cabbage to produce lactic acid and carbon dioxide. As the acid level rises, other microorganisms are killed leaving small amounts of simple alcohols and hydrocarbons to form. These alcohols and hydrocarbons then form chemical compounds called esters which give the sauerkraut it’s characteristic flavour. 

A hand massaging cabbage.

Health Benefits of Sauerkraut

Homemade Sauerkraut is a nutritional powerhouse! It has the benefits of eating raw cabbage (low in calories but packed with Vitamins K and C) while also delivering healthy probiotics to your gut. Probiotics aid in the absorption of Vitamins and generally aid in digestion. Other Vitamins and Minerals present in Sauerkraut are:  Vitamin B6, Iron, Manganese, Folate, Copper and Potassium.  However, kraut is quite high in sodium, so it is not recommended for low sodium diets or people watching their salt intake. 

A hand lifting wet cabbage from a jar.

Tips For A Happy Ferment

If you follow the above three golden rules your ferment should be happy, right? Well…maybe not. As with any natural process, there are a few things that could go awry. Preventative measures such as cleaning your equipment and washing hands and vegetables are a great place to start. Use only fresh vegetables, not ones that are moldy or soft. If you are adding high sugar vegetables, like carrots, add them in small quantities. 

A fermentation crock containing sauerkraut.

Possible Sauerkraut Issues

We’ve all been there, don’t worry. There are very few things can go horribly wrong with sauerkraut. That said, under certain conditions a flat, thin, white to cream-colored powder yeast (called KAHM) may form on the surface. It won’t hurt you but it does affect the flavour of your kraut. Since it’s difficult to get rid of, just discard your batch and start anew. If you see black, pink or orange mold, or it smells rotten discard it and start again (source). Does your sauerkraut have a thin mold growing on the surface? This may mean that the fermentation was not vigorous enough during the early stages. If the mold is green or grey, you can safely skim it off and keep on fermenting. Of course, if you feel more comfortable tossing it, go right ahead. Don’t give up, great kraut is worth it! 

A bowl containing some cloudy brine.

Homemade vs. Store Bought Sauerkraut

Homemade kraut contains live probiotics. It is best to store it in the fridge after the initial fermentation to slow the bacteria down. If you intend to store your sauerkraut for a longer period of time, consider freezing it. Yes, you can buy jars of processed sauerkraut from the grocery store but the high processing temperature kills off the beneficial probiotics. Processed kraut still contains all the Vitamins and minerals but will be less beneficial in the long run. If you would rather buy sauerkraut, source it from the refrigerated section of your grocery or health food store, not the dry goods aisle.

A person massaging fresh dill and cabbage together in a stainless steel bowl.

Sauerkraut Variations

As the recipe suggests, there are many ways to add some extra flavours into your homemade sauerkraut. Fresh dill, shredded carrot with ginger, and plain cabbage with caraway are all delicious variations. To add in other vegetables, be sure to chop them into a size similar to your cabbage, otherwise fermentation issues may occur. 

A quart jar containing carrot sauerkraut with an air lock lid.

Can Sauerkraut Go Bad?

Absolutely. Sauerkraut does have a shelf life. The best way to tell if your kraut is bad is to give it the old sniff test. Remember, sauerkraut is already ‘rotting’, so it will naturally have an interesting aroma. If it smells exceptionally foul, has changed colour, or appears moldy, toss it. 

Pin it HERE

Pin image of shredded cabbage and pink Himalayan salt and a person massaging dill and cabbage in a stainless steel bowl.

Preserving with Dish ‘n’ the Kitchen

Pickled Carrots with Dill and Garlic

Meyer Lemon Ginger Marmalade

 

Yield: 5 cups

Authentic Homemade Sauerkraut

Authentic Homemade Sauerkraut

Learn how to ferment your own authentic homemade sauerkraut in easy to follow steps.

Prep Time 40 minutes
Additional Time 14 days
Total Time 14 days 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium green or red cabbage 2.5 lbs. (about 1 kg) You can also add a mix of chopped veggies to the cabbage; say 1/2 kg cabbage to 1/2 kg veggies such as carrots, turnips, beets, Brussels sprouts, and even apples.
  • 4 tsp salt (non iodized)
  • OPTIONAL: caraway seeds, celery seed, grated ginger, fresh dill

Instructions

  1. Discard outer limp cabbage leaves and core cabbage.
  2. Slice the cabbage into desired size. Try to make it uniform but you can do anything from a round chop to a fine shred. If you have larger, thicker rib slices you may want to discard those for use in another recipe.
  3. When you have 1 kg of cut cabbage in the bowl, sprinkle the salt over top and begin massaging the cabbage.
  4. Keep rubbing until the cabbage is quite soft and pliable and there's at least 1 cup brine in the bottom of the bowl. Depending on the water content of the cabbage this could take 5-20 minutes.
  5. Add in flavour option (s) if using.
  6. Pack the cabbage tightly into a jar or crock and pour the brine over all. Press the cabbage down so that it is submerged under the brine.
  7. If you absolutely do not have enough brine, do not panic! Add a 2.5% salt and water brine (1/2 tsp salt/1 cup water) OR top it up with any kind of wine.
  8. Allow to ferment at least one week and up to 3 weeks. Refrigerate.

8 comments

  1. Colleen

    Thanks for sharing this sauerkraut recipe, Bernice. I have been really getting into fermentation lately, and having been looking forward to trying sauerkraut. Your post makes it seem much less intimidating!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      That is SO great to hear Colleen. I hope you do try it. In addition to it being really good for you, homemade sauerkraut is SO much cheaper than if you were to buy the live version in the grocery store.

      Reply

  2. Cynthia

    Fermentation scares me (unless I’m baking bread with yeast). I love how encouraging you are though I will know now to look for sauerkraut in the refrigerated section for store bought.

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Awesome…you’re halfway there! It is REALLY easy and difficult to screw up. I get my son to make some most of the time.

      Reply

  3. Amanda

    I eat a spoon of sauerkraut almost every day (and I have since high school!) because it makes me feel so good, and my skin especially appreciates it. I learned so much here. I’ve never tried to make it myself, and I often switch back and forth between the kind from the fridge section vs the dry goods aisles. I feel so much more informed!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      Really? I’ve never heard of that…is it like a drinking apple cider daily kind of thing? Definitely cheaper to make your own but the fresh, cold stored stuff is the next best thing.

      Reply

  4. Leanne | Crumb Top Baking

    Love sauerkraut Bernice, but I’ve never made it myself. It’s on my list of things to try making, and this post is just the motivation I need to give it a try. Thanks for sharing your recipe and tips, and identifying the possible issues I might have!

    Reply

    1. Bernice Hill

      GREAT! Once you start, you’ll wonder why you ever bought it!

      Reply

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